The Art of Centering Marginalized Voices

If you’re going to have diverse people in your workplace, you have a responsibility to to build inclusion. Period.

This starts with recognizing 3 things:

  • Supremacy and Patriarchy are real and the majority of oppression is a spinoff of these 2 systemic issues.
  • Diverse people have differing world views, experiences and needs that have to be acknowledged for them to be optimally successful in their work.
  • People harbor a lot of unconscious bias and bring it to work with them daily.

  • Once you’ve recognized these 3 things, you can move forward with sincere efforts toward inclusion. If you don’t believe these 3 things to be true, your efforts at inclusion — no matter how well intended or planned — will fail.

    Building a culture of inclusion is hard work. It takes deliberate, continuous effort and a lot of difficult conversation. We’ve been taught that work isn’t the place for this kind of activity. We think if we just focus on the success of our business and tell people all the things not to say to offend another person, it will all work out.

    It won’t.

    We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. We provide products and services to customers. If we’re not aware of our biases and equipped with strategies to overcome them, we are going to say or do something to cause offense. And in these times, that could be both dangerous and costly to the business’s reputation and profitability.

    If you don’t want that, you have to create an inclusion strategy that is more than just annual discrimination and harassment training with a litany of all the inappropriate things not to say. You have to do more than just hire and promote People of Color, Women and others who aren’t in the typical power structures. You have to make sure they have appropriate voice.

    White, Male, Christian, Wealthy, Young, Able-Bodied, Hetero-Sexual humans tend to dominate in workplaces because our structures empower them thru privilege. The more categories a person fits into within these 7, the more privilege they have and the more they will be naturally vocal over and naturally regarded positively by others. Even if the person is a jerk, they will be listened to more than someone who fits into few or none of these categories.

    As managers and Human Resources professionals, we have responsibility to make sure the people who fit into these categories are not the only ones consistently heard. We have to make sure those on our teams who don’t fit into these categories aren’t drowned out.

    This takes finesse because the last thing you want to do as a manager is make a Person of Color or Woman uncomfortable by calling upon them to speak. It points out that they are not in these categories. It can also make the person feel like they are now speaking for their group. This is just as bad as not allowing them to be part of the conversation in the first place.

    Related: How to Address Micro-Aggression

    Here are some tips to create more inclusive conversations in your workplace :

  • Set landmarks. Create ground rules for your work teams that promote inclusion. Be clear that mistreatment of members of your team will not be tolerated at any time for any reason in any way. Give behavioral examples of what this means and what the consequences will be.
  • Set leaders. Appoint project managers for work tasks and deputize them with the authority needed to accomplish their goal. Be sure the leaders you select reflect diversity and support them toward success thru coaching and by not allowing others on the team to undermine or impede efforts.
  • Set limits. Don’t allow one person or group to unnecessarily dominate the conversation about a project or issue when everyone on the team needs to have input. Let everyone know before or at the start of the meeting where their input is needed. Silence those who dominate the conversation, especially when they are interrupting others or hindering progress.
  • Set loneness. When you notice a Person of Color or Woman isn’t speaking up or facing challenges, reach out to them. Ask them how they’re doing and feeling. Ask what you can do to help support them in being successful or more vocal. Follow thru on your commitment to them, no matter how uncomfortable.

  • These are the steps that will help you make sure all the voices on your teams are heard and have the greatest opportunity to feel included. If you do not actively manage this, you will end up with a diverse but disgruntled workforce where microaggression and discrimination continues to be the norm.

    Let’s stop normalizing supremacy and patriarchy. Let’s do the hard work and help ensure marginalized voices are included and centered.